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An insomnia drug that helps the body produce more of the sleep hormone
melatonin may improve sleep for
jet-lagged travelers and shift workers, researchers reported on two studies
of drug tasimelteon, also known as VEC-162, that showed it helped patients
sleep longer and more deeply than a placebo.

They said that people with
so-called circadian rhythm disorders could
be helped. These disorders are common causes of insomnia that affect
millions of people whose activities are out of sync with their internal body

These disorders entail persistent sleep disturbances, insomnia when trying
to sleep and excessive sleepiness while trying to remain awake, the
researchers said.

"...Tasimelteon has the potential for the treatment of patients with
transient insomnia associated with circadian rhythm sleep disorders,
including people affected by jet lag, or those who work at night, and
early-riser workers," they wrote in their report, published in the Lancet
medical journal.

Dr. Shantha Rajaratnam of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical
School in Boston and colleagues, working with the company, did both
Phase II and Phase III trials of the drug, aiming to show it is safe and

Volunteers slept in labs and were tested using devices known as
polysomnographs, which measure sleep activity.
Patients given tasimelteon fell asleep faster, had better sleep and woke up
faster, they reported. The drug did not cause any more side-effects than a
placebo, they noted.v
Melatonin can fight jet lag too but over-the-counter melatonin products are
not regulated, they pointed out, and have not been consistently shown to
help treat jet lag and other sleep disorders.

The market is potentially large. The study quoted U.S.
labor statistics as finding that about 20 percent of the workforce or about
19.7 million U.S. workers are early risers who start work between 2:30 a.m.
and 7 a.m.

"Most of these people probably experience chronic sleep restriction because
they are unable to initiate and maintain sleep when they attempt to sleep in
the early or late evening hours. Tasimelteon might alleviate this problem by
advancing the sleep-wake cycle, by providing a direct
sleep-promoting effect, or both," they wrote.
In a commentary, Dr. Daniel Cardinali of the University of Buenos Aires and
Dr Diego Golombek, National University of Quilmes in Argentina, noted that
drugs such as valium can be addictive. "Shift-workers, airline crew,
tourists, football teams, and many others will welcome the results of
Shantha Rajaratnam and colleagues' study
in The Lancet today," they wrote.